What desperate circumstances bring out the best and the worst in the people, as recounted in Of Plymouth Plantation?
Because of numerous problems during their voyage, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth during the cold New England winter. Therefore, they had missed the growing season and had to depend on what was left of their ship's supplies for food. Furthermore, they could not build shelters on land and spent the winter aboard the ship anchored off shore, among the company of rough (Bradford calls them "profane") sailors who had brought them over.
During that terrible first winter, which Bradford calls "The Starving Time," the Pigrims and many of the sailors fell sick, and more than half of the Pilgrims, who originally numbered more than one-hundred, died of starvation and disease. In Bradford's account, he tells of the strength, courage, and kindness of those Pilgrims who remained well enough to care for the others.
At one time, only six or so Pilgrims cared for all the others who were sick and dying, feeding them and washing their "loathsome" clothing and bedding. The sick sailors were cared for, as well, even though they had treated the Pilgrims with cruelty and contempt from the beginning of the voyage. On the trip across the Atlantic, for instance, the sailors had cursed the Pilgrims, made fun of those who were seasick, and taunted them about throwing their bodies overboard when they died. In Bradford's account of the founding of the colony at Plymouth, he shows in detail that the dire conditions encountered that first winter brought out the best of human compassion in the Pilgrims; the "profane" sailors, however, did not demonstrate compassion or even basic decency toward others.